NGO HRW demands investigation of war crimes in Niger

NGO Human Rights Watch condemns the summary execution of Nigerian soldiers by two suspected members of Boko Haram, in May, in southeast Niger. This accusation, which is the result of an investigation into a video, is in addition to several other allegations of human rights violations directed at the Nigerian Army.

Pictures are difficult to support. A video of just over a minute, filmed from an armored vehicle, shows a chase between men on foot and soldiers from the Nigerian army aboard the Mamba MK7 armored vehicle.

The soldiers first pass by a turning vehicle and crush a first man lying on the ground. Then they chase another man by shooting him. The volatile zigzags between the rare bushes in this desert area in south-eastern Niger, near the border with Nigeria, depending on the location identified by the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). It was hit by a bullet, the latter collapsed to the ground and two of the tanks passed over him as they rolled. One of the soldiers then raises his arms in sign of victory. Another exclaims: “Stop, he fell, he died!”

The incident was filmed by a Nigerian soldier and the video was posted on social networks where she actively circulated. warned, HRW, who could not go there because of the Covid-19 pandemic, analyzed the images and today asks Niger to launch an investigation into the facts “corresponding to war crimes”, we can read in a press release published on June 12.

Niger in war with terrorism

The Nigerian government has interrogated by NGOs to flush out the charge of “war crimes”, while confirming that the facts went well on Nigerian soil. They occurred on May 11, during an operation by the Nigerian Armed Forces against Boko Haram south of Diffa, the big city in southeast Niger. According to the Nigerian Ministry of Defense, a “group” of 25 “Boko terrorists Haram” was killed that day.

A member of the G5 Sahel and the Multinational Joint Force (MNJTF), which coordinates operations in the states bordering Lake Chad against Boko Haram, Niger has faced jihadist attacks in its border areas for several years. In the West, through the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, it undergoes deadly attacks by Sahelian groups; in the southeast, he is subjected to abuses by Boko Haram and the Islamic State group in West Africa (Iswap). In early May, Boko Haram significantly increased its attacks in the Diffa region, killing in particular May 3, killing two soldiers and wounding three others.

Niger therefore records the incident in its fight against terrorism. A government official told HRW that the victims were members of Boko Haram, involved in the murder of a Nigerian lieutenant south of Diffa. According to him, the soldiers in the video were his subordinates and tried to avenge his death. The Nigerian military “should not be tried on the basis of this incident”, he argues, “the military court should not be expected to convict these men for killing members of Boko Haram”.

Legitimate military target or war crime?

But HRW points out that the context of the fight against terrorism does not excuse everything. “First and foremost, there is nothing to confirm or deny that these men belonged to Boko Haram,” commented Jonathan Pednault, a researcher in the crisis and conflicts department of HRW, to France 24.

The differences of opinion between Niger and NGO then lie in the interpretation of facts. “First is the victim we see in the first few seconds of the video on the ground: it means she is either injured or has voluntarily gone out of action,” explains Jonathan Pednault. “As for the other man – who admits he is a legitimate enemy – he escapes. In the code of war it would effectively allow him to be neutralized. But from the moment he is injured it is no longer the same. And we can clearly see soldiers who attacks him, shoots him and rolls him twice. There, there is war crime. “

According to Article 3 (i) 1949 Geneva Convention, it is really forbidden to attack “persons who do not directly engage in hostilities, including the armed forces who put down their weapons or who were put out of action by […] The Nigerian authorities respond with the argument of self-defense: In a letter of June 8, Nigerian Foreign Minister Kalla Ankourao confirms that the second victim was wearing a belt of explosives and that he did not raise his hands to surrender, which does him to a legitimate military target. “The armored vehicle had no purpose other than to protect the soldiers in the event of the explosive charge,” writes the Minister at HRW.

Again, HRW disputes. “The video does not confirm that there is such a belt,” says Jonathan Pednault. “And if he wore one, did it really roll over the maneuver to protect the soldiers rather than try to immobilize the target at a distance?”

Charges for atrocities against the Nigerian Army are increasing

“The Nigerian Army has an excellent reputation,” however, explains Jonathan Pednault, recalling that the latter receives financial and strategic support as well as equipment from France and the United States, among others, for its actions and commitment to the fight. counter. “But since the beginning of the year, she has been questioned by several accusations of abuse during operations in Mali or Niger.”

In early April, the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) condemned the “multiplication” of violations attributed to the national armies of the Sahel. In particular, she counted about thirty outstanding executions of the Nigerian Army on Malian soil. At the end of March, human rights violations were also reported by Niger Defense and Security Forces (SDF) by civilians in northern Tillaberi, southwest of the country. According to a report consulted by France 24, Fulani and the Touareg community accuse FDS of summary executions, disappearances and other arrests of torture.

Each time, Niger denied facts but agreed to initiate investigations – international for UN accusations and national in the case of Tillaberi. The Nigerian Government confirms that it wants to “restore the reality of the facts” and demonstrate “its connection to respect for human rights”. In the latest case, Diffa’s, HRW also demanded a “credible and impartial investigation to establish responsibility”.